PUMA Relaunches Ralph Sampson’s Original Sneaker

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Are you a Wahoo fan who completely missed the Ralph Sampson era of Virginia basketball? Were you too young to grab any Sampson athletic gear? Are you old enough to have owned some Sampson stuff, but misplaced it over time?

Well, you’re in luck. PUMA is re-releasing Sampson’s original OG sneakers from his early days with the NBA’s Houston Rockets. Sampson was the No. 1 draft pick in the 1983 NBA Draft and was the league’s Rookie of the Year.

PUMA decided to honor the legendary Sampson, now a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and a three-time National Player of the Year at Virginia, by bringing back the OG silhouette. The reissue comes in a high top and a low cut for those who want to ball out or wear them for leisure.

Both come with a full leather upper in PUMA’s classic white/gray/violet/peacoat color, although Sampson tells us that more styles and colors will be coming down the line.


“PUMA came back into the basketball world, but it has been more of a lifestyle shoe and not a basketball shoe,” Sampson said. “I had to be quiet about [the relaunch] for many months. I didn’t even tell my parents about it. But the reissue had to mean something.”

When Ralph played at Virginia, he wore Pro-Keds, but when he became a Houston Rocket, Pro-Keds went out of business before Sampson had even made his NBA debut.

Sampson said he wore a size 12 shoe when he was 12 years old, then a size 13 at age 13, making it hard to find a shoe that fit in those days. His growth continued and when he reached age 17, he wore size 17.

“That was unheard of in those days,” the 7-foot-4 center said.

“PUMA courted me for months, so that’s who I eventually signed with,” Sampson said. “It was special for me because back then there weren’t many basketball players that had their name on a shoe. I was really proud. As excited as I was back then, I’m even more excited now.”

While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar signed a shoe deal with Adidas in 1971, most considered Walt “Clyde” Frazier to be the first NBA player to come out with his name on a shoe with PUMA in 1973. Julius Erving, “Dr. J,” was next in ‘75 (with Converse).

Sampson’s deal with PUMA came in ‘83, and the next year Michael Jordan signed a deal as Nike finally got into the shoe game. Patrick Ewing followed in ‘85 with Adidas, then Larry Bird with Converse in ‘86, and Magic Johnson with Converse in ‘87.

“For me, it was really special because not many players had their name on a shoe at that time,” Sampson said. “I was proud to be in that company.”

Just like the first time, when Sampson flew to PUMA’s headquarters in Germany to give his input to the shoe design, he is working with the company on some ideas he has for the sneaker, which features his autograph and silhouette.

“My first couple of weeks in the NBA, I wore a shoe that was a prototype of the shoe that I would end up wearing. It wasn’t very comfortable and I had to wear like five pairs of socks until they developed the final product,” Sampson said. “I ended up wearing that shoe through my whole NBA career.”

PUMA said that signing the former Virginia All-American took its company to the next level in the basketball world.

Sampson’s shoe is available for order now through PUMA’s website.



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